Scottish Qualifications Authority (Discussions)

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 7 December 2023.

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Photo of Stuart McMillan Stuart McMillan Scottish National Party

1. To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with the SQA in relation to the consistency of national 4 and national 5 prelim examination papers. (S6O-02846)

Photo of Jenny Gilruth Jenny Gilruth Scottish National Party

Although prelims can be valuable preparation for final national 5 exams and a useful guide to pupil progress, they are not compulsory, and the decision on whether to set prelims rests with individual schools and colleges. As they are not a formal part of the process for awarding Scottish Qualifications Authority qualifications, the SQA does not have any role in the delivery of prelim exams.

National 4 qualifications are made up of units, including an added-value unit, with no final external examination. They are internally assessed as pass or fail and are externally quality assured by the SQA. Therefore, prelims are not commonly used at that level.

Photo of Stuart McMillan Stuart McMillan Scottish National Party

The quality and consistency of prelim exam papers become important to students who find themselves in need of an appeal, and they are particularly likely to go through that process if they are unable to sit the SQA final exam. That has been the situation for one of my constituents, who got an A in their prelim but, on appeal, got a B. The SQA said that the marking criteria had not been consistently applied and that the level of demand of the assessment that generated the evidence was less than the course assessment.

Would the cabinet secretary consider it to be better for students if they all sat the same prelim exam or one that the SQA agreed was equal to the level of the course assessment?

Photo of Jenny Gilruth Jenny Gilruth Scottish National Party

It is worth reiterating that the SQA does not have any role in the delivery of prelim exams. It is also worth saying that, since the introduction of the national qualifications back in 2013-14, prelims and any alternative evidence have not formed part of the appeals process, apart from during the temporary pandemic arrangements. I am of the view that the appropriate evidence to inform the appeals process is a matter for the new qualifications body and that it should keep that under review.

Of course, the SQA looks at alternative evidence for exceptional circumstances such as pupils who might have been unable to sit their exam or whose performance was impacted due to illness. The SQA gives extensive guidance to centres on what constitutes valid evidence in those circumstances, and that includes prelim evidence. The SQA also gives a range of support to centres on understanding standards, to support teachers in setting assessments and understanding the level for the learner against the national standard.

Fundamentally, a wider programme of education reform is currently under way, and I believe that that will require to consider approaches to assessment in much more detail as part of any changes to the qualifications that might come forward. In the meantime, I encourage Stuart McMillan’s constituent to discuss the matter directly with their school or local authority.

Photo of Martin Whitfield Martin Whitfield Labour

When we look at the role of the SQA in qualifications, we look back at 2022, when a “generous approach” was used for grading. For the exams at the end of the previous academic year, a “sensitive approach” was taken to grading. With change coming to the SQA—this is pertinent to the question that has been asked about appeals—what approach will it take for this academic year?

Photo of Jenny Gilruth Jenny Gilruth Scottish National Party

For this past academic year, for the first time, we reintroduced the qualification requirements that existed prior to the pandemic, and the arrangements around the appeals process mirror those that existed prior to the pandemic. As the member has intimated, the SQA took a range of different measures in relation to being sensitive to the grading approach that it applied. As I understand it, the SQA has returned to the approach that was applied prior to the pandemic, and the arrangements have returned to normal. Although I would be more than happy to write to the member directly on the issue and confirm it directly with the SQA, that is certainly my understanding of the approach that the SQA will take this year.